By Jenn Ingram
When I was young, on a rare occasion, my family and I would take the ferry over from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, and go to afternoon tea at the Empress Hotel in the province’s capital, Victoria. It was a simple luxurious pleasure. The room was large with plush chairs and tables, and they would bring the tea and tiny sandwiches in rounds, so that we were always waiting for the next treat to arrive.
As destiny would have it, I met my friend Laura in a Master’s program in Halifax, Nova Scotia, around 2013. Since our studies together, we have managed to meet up in eight different cities (or towns) and four different countries. Laura had never been to London in the United Kingdom, so upon hearing I was going she quickly bought a plane ticket and decided to come along, too. We saw the sights and did the tourist things, and when our trip was almost over I told her that the one thing that I would really love to do before we leave is go to afternoon tea. My impression was that she was slightly skeptical that we needed to go—perhaps, thinking it was a lot of the trouble of to make an advanced seating and that it didn’t seem necessary to pay premium prices for a cup of tea—but being the good sport that she is, she had a smile on her face as she agreed to go.
For those who are unfamiliar with this ritual, it began in the 1940s. Anna, the Duchess of Bedford created the afternoon tea in order to fend off hunger and exhaustion between lunch and a late-evening meal between 3:00 and 5:00 pm. Typically, it’s a modest offering of tea, sandwiches, scones, cakes, and pastries. The tiny sandwiches are crustless, and contain a variety of savory fillings, such as cucumber, smoked salmon, or egg salad. Petit scones are served with jam and clotted cream. Chocolates, petit fours, macarons, and éclairs are just a few of the pastries and desserts that are frequently served.
We had very little time to secure reservations since our trip was coming to an end. And the hotel desk clerk informed us, he could only find a couple of options for us nearby. We encountered another challenge, some afternoon teas cost more than we wanted to spend, and others were too modern, which is a different style from the experience I hoped to show my friend. Our desire was for a simple and traditional afternoon tea experience. Despite making calls and conducting online research, we still couldn't find any last-minute options.
Since we had not had any luck, we decided to head out for a walk to the Queen’s Arms pub in South Kensington while the sun still shone and the shops were still open. We had only gone a block or two, when to our delight, we stumbled upon a charming storefront adorned with vibrant flowers. There was a man, who turned out to be the maitre de, standing outside. We were able to glance at a menu and saw that they happened to offer afternoon tea. It was about to close for the evening, but we eagerly let the gentleman know we planned to return the next day.
It turns out there are two Fait Maison locations on Gloucester Road in South Kensington. The one we found is their flagship Salon de Thé branch, nestled at 144 Gloucester Road, SWY. Despite being the smaller venue, it’s a fortunate coincidence that it turned out to be the perfect fit for our needs. Closer to the tube station is a grander Fait Maison at 50 Gloucester Road.
What made Fait Maison even more appealing to us was their welcoming attitude that we could simply drop in. Unlike many other places that required reservations 48 hours in advance. The fact that Fait Maison primarily caters to walk-ins suited our spontaneous natures. At 3 o’clock in the afternoon, we made our way to the Fait Maison and were immediately seated at a table.
We both ordered a pot of the Lavender Earl Grey tea, and we decided to share one round of afternoon tea. Laura didn't want to eat too many sweets, so sharing those made more sense for us. Our visit came to around $27-$35 each in US or Canadian currency. Splitting the cost in half, we were more than satisfied with the price.
Our unplanned discovery and subsequent visit to Fait Maison turned out to be a delightful surprise. Not only did we get to experience a traditional afternoon tea, but we also enjoyed the spontaneity and affordability of the place. It was a truly memorable and fitting way to conclude our vacation.
“Food is at the heart of everything I do. It brings friends and family together, it also brings comfort to the soul,” shares Om Waleed (Yvonne Osman), Executive Chef and Creative Director of Fait Maison’s flagship salon on their website.
“It was the highlight of the trip,” shares Laura, about her initiation to afternoon tea. Some experiences can’t be imagined, it’s in the doing. And an afternoon tea is one of those pleasures. It’s likely it changed Laura’s opinion of afternoon tea forever, and I felt supremely satisfied to have had an opportunity to be with a good friend in London, enjoying such a magnificent treat. It’s also a terrific activity for a parent and a child to add a little glamor to their lives, and equally lovely for a couple wanting a daytime date.
If you have the time, I hope you will give a formal afternoon tea a try!
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